By J. Evans Payne Infinium Game Studio 5e Levels 1-3
A simple farmstead is comprised of a small family of halflings. But when one sister runs away from home and a second goes missing, the third and only remaining child ventures forth to discover what happened to her siblings. Alone and wracked with guilt and worry, the farm matriarch turns cruel and abusive, and the father seeks comfort in delving ever deeper into the caverns and tunnels underneath the farmhouse… until one day, drawn to the burgeoning evil of the corrupted psyches of the grief-stricken parents, terror and gore seizes what was once a simple farm.
This 154 page adventure uses about forty pages to describe about ninety rooms in a multi-story farmhouse, plug three levels of caves underneath. It has a good idea in it, but otherwise is a testament to overproduction, padding and D&D as discrete boxed elements during play.
I promise you, I do not buy adventures based on their potential to be a trainwreck. Except for this one. 154 pages for a one session adventure?! Count me in! And, even then, I though, hmmm, I could see how you could it … it would be interesting if x, y, and z …
Twenty pages of intro/explanation, backstory, and How To Play D&D start us off, followed by forty pages of the keyed descriptions and then around eighty pages of mostly monster stats, with a few “this is my cool new rule addendum” pages. Certainly, an average of two rooms per page is not as bad as some adventures. While the read-aloud here is long and bad, as is usual for these adventures using a lot of “you see” and so on, it is not the usual overwritten dross that plagues the industry, for once. But, more on that later. First, let’s talk about what this adventure does right.
In short: it tries to present a larger context for some elements. And succeeds, kind of. These larger contexts are nothing new. We’ve seen pages and pages of backstory before in adventures. When they are good they don’t get in the way and you can ignore them. When they are bad they embed information you need to run the information and thus you are forced to read them and glean information from them. In common, though, is their inability to impact the actual as it is being run. At most, all of this “used to be” and “what has come before” can supply a sages information or what can be gleaned from a divination spell. But, in terms of driving the adventure? No.
And the attempt here doesn’t really drive adventure during play either. At least, not in the play that would be considered the main adventure in the product. I’m generally a fan of the Conclusions or Follow Up sections that some adventures have. These are usually short sections that detail potential consequences to the parties actions in the adventure. They help integrate the adventure in to the game world and provide a degree of continuity. Almost the other side of the Hooks sections that most adventures (including this one) do so poorly. This adventure is trying to provide some consequences also. In particular, there are three sisters who the party could, at one point stumble across and those could be tied back in to this adventure as the party relates the tale of the farmhouse to them, be they explicitly looking for them or just trip over them. Their fates are briefly detailed in a few paragraphs and the consequences are, rather poorly, integrated in to the adventure text rather than being outlined at the end. This is poor, making the information harder to find in the future when you want to rereference it at a later date. But, the idea is a decent one and, in particular, the very humanistic stakes. It’s not a zombie plague overrunning the land, but rather “hey, here’s what happened to your family.”
The rest of this thing, though, is the usual trainwreck.
Long read-aloud is present, as well as the inappropriate usage of text like “you feel …” and “you see …” that is not worded in the correct person. But, that’s not what you’re going to notice.
What you’re going to notice is the rainbow that puked all over the text.
Everything here is color coded. Every section heading, every box, every trap, every table. All boxed off with their own different background color. What you get is a series of colored boxes, each bull of their own text. The idea is to make it easy for the DM to find things, I’m sure. In practice though the pages are far FAR too busy. Boxing text, offsetting text, the good use of whitespace, and some occasional background color is fine. But this shows when this sort of thing is taken to an extreme. It’s distracting and leads to much more confusion than it solves.
As an adventure, it mostly fails at being interesting.
Random monsters are rolled for every 10 minutes in the basement. They just attack. And even at the MOST generous, they occur on a 4 in 6 chance every ten minutes, AT THE MOST GENEROUS. What’s worse though is this kind of “boxed off “effect of the adventure. It’s like there are very clearly distinct elements to the adventure. First you explore a room and then you are attacked by monsters, and there is no overlap in styles. A kulk and two skeleton rogues attack.” That’s it. No elements to the attack, no dropping from ceilings or clawing their way out of the walls. A room with urns and Crawling Hands does not have them coming out of the grave earth. It just says they are there and they attack, only later mentioning the urns. Because it is Fighting Tima and you don’t have descriptive elements in Fighting Time, obviously. Duh! And page after page of uninteresting empty rooms in the farmhouse proper, just looting stuff and nothing more. And the monsters are just an assortment. Zombies. Ghouls, Skulks, Dark Stalkers. No rhyme or reason to them being there. Because they are just there for Fighting Time, rather than being integrated in to the adventure.
Better, would have been cutting all of the “challenge level” stuff that bulks up the text and instead just saying something like “They crawl from the urns and skitter up the walls to the ceiling” or some such. This is the extra little bit that an adventure SHOULD provide in order to load the DM with ideas. No, none of this “a good DM could …” nonsense. It’s the adventure designers job to provide these extra bits of evocative flavour. Not spoon feeding. Not going overboard, but little extra bits. What does the creature look like? Who knows, they are just a Skulk and two skeleton rogues in this.
A failure. Not of epic proportions, but at least ina new way; death by overproduction. Cutting all of this extra shit and just concentrating on the adventure at hand AND DoING A GOOD JOB OF IT. First, do the basics right.
This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is twenty pages and shows you nothing. Pages fifteen and sixteen hint at the color box bombing, but it’s far worse in in the actual encounter rooms. A good preview would have shown up pages that actually contained a room or two, so we could judge for ourselves if we wanted to buy the adventure.